Mar as motha a dh’atharraicheas e?
Recent rummaging through old files on old discs as part of a domestic computer upgrade turned up an interesting find. I presented this paper 19 years ago at the first Fasgnag conference at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – long before Àrainn Chaluim Chille, before even the extension to Àrainn Ostaig. What a lot of changes there have been in the Gaelic development world in the intervening period – and I’m not just referring to new buildings in the Isle of Skye.
If I remember correctly the paper was well received on the day, with a number of participants remarking on how the mutual confidence issues between interlocutors that I was raising in relation to adult learners were mirrored among young adults raised in Gaelic-speaking families in the Western Isles. Two decades on, is the question of how to establish a minimum shared “comfort level” for Gaelic speaking just as salient, if not more so, irrespective of how you started learning it, or at what age?
Plus ça change? Well, maybe. You certainly don’t have to look hard for reasons to be pessimistic. But you could say the case for Gaelic has always been counter-intuitive at a surface “transactional” level of analysis. Dig a bit deeper, though, and more interesting questions emerge. How to welcome and embrace bilingualism, with both arms? How to assert and celebrate the importance of speech in ordinary daily language behaviour, and so place writing skills in their proper context? These are positive questions, with general as well as specific Gaelic application. And finding answers may require yet more counter-intuitive thinking. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the remaining Gaelic-speaking communities outside academia, such as they are, would be a good place to start looking. After all, they are the closest we’ve got in Scotland to an everyday working model.